The world’s most expensive telescope is parked for the moment in Greenbelt, Maryland, shrouded in a protective tent at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In just two years, this long-delayed, $8 billion, cosmos-penetrating instrument is supposed to be nearly a million miles from Earth.
If it works, the James Webb Space Telescope will collect the oldest light in the universe, emitted soon after the big bang, when the first stars lit up and the first galaxies began to form. It will study black holes lurking at the center of galaxies. It will scrutinize the light from planets around distant stars and look for atmospheres you’d expect to see on worlds rioting with life.
But that’s only after an epic journey. It’s not a straight shot from the Washington suburbs to space.
The telescope first must be sealed in a climate-controlled container. Then, sometime in late March or early April, a truck will haul it very slowly and gently in the dead of night along a partially closed Capital Beltway. A lead car will watch for road obstacles and potholes.